Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Man Spears a 6-foot Sturgeon

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - The fish's long shadow slid under the ice, causing Darren Horness to blink. "I was skimming some ice off the hole, and all the sudden I thought I caught a little bit of movement, and I had to kind of take a step back," said Horness, 36, of Howards Grove. "The fish was actually coming up into the hole, I just could see part of it and could tell it was a kind of a nice fish, but I had no idea how big it really was."

The 102-pound, 72-inch sturgeon was nearly as long as he was tall.

About 8,000 fishermen spearhunt sturgeon each year on Lake Winnebago and its upriver lakes. In his seven years, Horness hadn't come close to a fish that big.

He had cut a hole through the 16 inches of ice on Lake Winnebago, and the sturgeon arched through it, coming within six inches of the surface. Horness heard the fish's back scrape the ice on the bottom edge of the hole.

"I had to get down on my knees and I had to spear almost horizontal because it was so high up into the hole," he said. "I didn't know how good of a hit that I had on it because it was such a weird throw."

The spear lodged in the fish's tail, about two feet from the end. Within minutes, the female was tiring and had moved close enough to the surface for Horness to see what he'd caught.

"My knees just almost buckled because it looked so humongous in the water," he said.

About a dozen of the 700 fish speared so far this year have topped 100 pounds, said Ron Bruch, a sturgeon biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources. The season continues through Feb. 25 or when the harvest limit is reached.

Gary Hilbert of Fond du Lac caught the heaviest sturgeon of the year so far Saturday on Lake Poygan. The female weighed 139 1/2 pounds and was 71 1/2 inches long. Mike Freund of White Lake speared a 111-pound, 72.5-inch female on Lake Winnebago Sunday.

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